The Libertarian presidential candidate, former Republican Gov. Gary Johnson of New Mexico, believes former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden should be pardoned.
Since 2013, Snowden has been residing in Russia under temporary political asylum. If he were to return to the U.S., he would face federal charges for leaking classified documents.
While security proponents have praised him for revealing the extent of the NSA’s domestic surveillance capabilities, critics deem him a traitor and a criminal for seizing a trove of classified intelligence documents and compromising national security.
On May 29, Johnson was nominated for the Libertarian Party ticket after winning on the party convention’s second ballot in Orlando, Florida, according to The Associated Press.
“I am fiscally conservative in spades and I am socially liberal in spades,” Johnson said. “I would cut back on military interventions that have the unintended consequence of making us less safe in the world.”
The Libertarian Party platform emphasizes liberal rights while calling for massive cuts to government agencies. Libertarian politicians have consistently been against the NSA’s surveillance practices, arguing that it infringes on privacy without adequately curbing terrorist activity.
On May 31, Johnson signaled he would be open to pardoning Snowden if he were elected president.
“This is someone who has divulged information that we would not know about currently -- and that’s the United States government spying on all of us as U.S. citizens,” Johnson told Newsmax TV. “I don’t want to see him in prison.”
The former governor added that he was in agreement with former Attorney General Eric Holder, who had expressed a measure of admiration for Snowden.
“We can certainly argue about the way in which Snowden did what he did, but I think he actually performed a public service by raising the debate that we engaged in and by the changes that we made,” Holder told campaign strategist David Axelrod on his political podcast, CNN reports.
Johnson praised Holder’s candid take on the matter.
“It’s pretty darn accurate, and keep it in mind, the American Revolution, we have these people now being looked back as heroes,” Johnson said. “We would not know about this mass surveillance that’s going on right now.”
While Holder did praise Snowden for opening up a public debate, Johnson did take his statement out of context. The former attorney general still maintains that Snowden broke the law and should face trial.
“He harmed American interests,” Holder said. "I know there are ways in which certain of our agents were put at risk, relationships with other countries were harmed, our ability to keep the American people safe was compromised ... So what he did was not without consequence."